Friday, May 13, 2011

But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.

Looking at the sun. Heading to the Tasman Arch, the Tasman Penninsula. January 2011.

Tobias Wolff’s The Barracks Thief is a quietly-told story of a restless young man waiting for something to happen. That ‘something’ happens to be a stint in the 82nd Airborne out to Vietnam, but something is – on occasion – better than nothing. The novel draws this man together with two others with similar tales, with the title giving us the apex for the story to hang off.

The army seems to be a place where the restless and the lonely might be able to find the kinship that they otherwise don’t know. However, this kinship inevitably comes at some kind of cost. It’s here that Wolff effectively weaves his tale. Embracing the perspectives of both the betrayer and the betrayed, he manages to coerce us into lives that we might otherwise condemn, or to recognise depth where we might not have seen.

Don’t be fooled by this novel’s apparent slightness, for there’s an awful lot going on inside it. It both reinforces and resists a lot of preconceptions about the army itself and the type of people within it and their motivations for being there. I liked this one a lot. Well worth your time.

Fly Away Peter by David Malouf breaks my Australian novel duck this year! Moreover, it’s a book that seems equal parts loathed and loved by thousands of Australian high school students due to its status as a set text on the Senior English curriculum in some states…

An exploration of identity that explores the boundaries of place, class and experience, Malouf uses a central motif of birdlife to survey a range of themes. Set in Queensland in the lead up to the First World War, the mystery of the migratory patterns of birds symbolically echoes the journey of the central character to the other side of the world to fight in a war he knows little about.

I liked the book. Even though it is a little heavy on the symbolism for my tastes, I can see why it makes ideal fodder for students of the form. The concepts of being, time, and meaning resonate through what is now a familiar tale of youth wasted at the altar of war, and the dualities of war/peace, life/death, innocence/experience, wealth/poverty, natural/manmade.

You can tell that Malouf has a fair history of poetry behind him, as the book is rich in poetic imagery. For that alone it’s worth a look. Consider that a recommendation!

I have read that Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto’s debut novel Kitchen remains a phenomenal success in Japanese publishing history. If there is one thing that I can say with some confidence about the book, she certainly plays to her audience. Unfortunately for me, that audience comprises of an awful lot of love struck girls.

Ostensibly the tale of family, grief and love, Kitchen is replete with food-based imagery and metaphor. For me, this is the strongest aspect of the novel. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there is a certain licence to describe what’s on the table. Unfortunately, this is also a tale of grief and love, and the constant telling rather than showing the central characters’ (intense) feelings very much wears you down.

I’m not sure how suited I am for the unbridled sentimentality that forms the heart of this book. An uneven translation probably doesn’t help, as the frequent ‘Americanisms’ do jar when spoken by Japanese characters. That said, it’s an interesting peek at the lives of young Japanese. It explores a world that balances tofu and pickled vegetables against KFC and doughnuts, and gives me a peek at a life quite different from mine.

A long way from the work of Yukio Mishima or Shusaku Endo, I don’t think that Kitchen was a waste of my time but I am sure that Banana is my cup of tea. That said, if you’re young and in the throes of your first love, I’d recommend it.


Who Is Afraid of Alfred Hitchcock? said...

Hi! Kris...

"The Barracks Thief
Fly Away Peter
Interesting, mixed feeling? No?
Kitchens (I would probably seek this book out to read, but I'am not quite sure :?)

By the way,The photograph is very beautiful and I agree with the quote wholeheartedly,
Thanks, for sharing all the book
recommendation too!
DeeDee ;-D

me said...

Perhaps you may find Murakami's novels more to your liking then, if you can get past the sometimes frustratingly perplexing plotlines and surreal commentary on contemporary Japanese culture. This is hardly a recommendation, but after reading several of his books I'm still unsure if I'm actually a fan or not...

Finally got a hold of Ivan Denisovich a week ago, well worth the read - thanks for the recommendation.

Kris said...

DeeDee, they all had their attractions.

Me, Murakami is one I've still not got to yet. One day! Ivan Denisovich is a great book to give anyone who grumbles about the weather and their lot.

I'm thinking about public servants here, of course.